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In 2000, Daniel Goleman, best-selling author, leadership consultant, and a leading voice on the importance of emotional intelligence, wrote an article under the above title for the Harvard Business Review. He argued that many managers mistakenly assume that leadership style is a function of personality rather than strategic choice. Instead of choosing the one style that suits their temperament, they should instead ask which style best addresses the demands of a particular situation.

Research has shown that the most successful leaders have strengths in a variety of emotional intelligence competencies. Goleman wrote that emotional intelligence – the ability to manage ourselves and our relationships effectively – consists of four fundamental capabilities: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social skill. Each capability, in turn, is composed of specific sets of competencies.

Below is a list of the capabilities and their corresponding traits:


  • Emotional self-awareness: the ability to read and understand your emotions as well as recognize their impact on work performance, relationships, and the like.
  • Accurate self-assessment: a realistic evaluation of your strengths and limitations.
  • Self-confidence: a strong and positive sense of self-worth.


  • Self-control: the ability to keep disruptive emotions and impulses under control.
  • Trustworthiness: a consistent display of honesty and integrity.
  • Conscientiousness: the ability to manage yourself and your responsibilities.
  • Adaptability: skill at adjusting to changing situations and overcoming obstacles.
  • Achievement orientation: the drive to meet an internal standard of excellence.
  • Initiative: a readiness to seize opportunities

Social Awareness

  • Empathy: skill at sensing other people’s emotions, understanding their perspective, and taking an active interest in their concerns.
  • Organizational awareness: the ability to read the currents of organizational life, build decision networks, and navigate politics.
  • Service orientation: the ability to recognize and meet customers’ needs.

Social Skill

  • Visionary leadership: the ability to take charge and inspire with a compelling vision.
  • Influence: the ability to wield a range of persuasive tactics.
  • Developing others: the propensity to bolster the abilities of others through feedback and guidance.
  • Communication: skill at listening and at sending clear, convincing, and well-tuned messages.
  • Change catalyst: proficiency in initiating new ideas and leading people in a new direction.
  • Conflict management: the ability to de-escalate disagreements and orchestrate resolutions.
  • Building bonds: proficiency at cultivating and maintaining a web of relationships.
  • Teamwork and collaboration: competence at promoting cooperation and building teams

There are six basic styles of leadership and each makes use of the key components of emotional intelligence in different combinations. The best leaders don’t know just one style of leadership – they’re skilled at several, and have the flexibility to switch between styles as the circumstances dictate.

Managers often fail to appreciate how profoundly the organizational climate can influence financial results. It can account for nearly a third of financial performance.

Organizational climate, in turn, is influenced by leadership style – by the way that managers motivate direct reports, gather and use information, make decisions, manage change initiatives, and handle crises. Each of the six basic leadership styles are derived from different emotional intelligence competencies, works best in particular situations, and affects the organizational climate in different ways.

1.  The coercive style. This "Do what I say" approach can be very effective in a turn-around situation, a natural disaster, or when working with problem employees. But in most situations, coercive leadership inhibits the organization’s flexibility and dampens employee’s motivation.

2.  The authoritative style.  An authoritative leader takes a "come with me" approach: she states the overall goal but gives people the freedom to choose their own means of achieving it. This style works especially well when a business is adrift. It is less effective when the leader is working with a team of experts who are more experienced than he is.

3.  The affiliative style.  The hallmark of the affiliative leader is a "people come first" attitude. This style is particularly useful for building team harmony or increasing morale. But its exclusive focus on praise can allow poor performance to go uncorrected. Also, affiliative leaders rarely offer advice, which often leaves employees in a quandary.

4.  The democratic style.  This style’s impact on organizational climate is not as high as you might imagine.  By giving workers a voice in decisions, democratic leaders build organizational flexibility and responsibility and help generate fresh ideas. But sometimes the price is endless meetings and confused employees who feel leaderless.

5.  The pacesetting style.  A leader who sets high performance standards and exemplifies them himself has a very positive impact on employees who are self-motivated and highly competent. But other employees tend to feel overwhelmed by such a leader’s demands for excellence – and to resent his tendency to take over a situation.

6.  The coaching style.  This style focuses more on personal development than on immediate work-related tasks. It works well when employees are already aware of their weaknesses and want to improve, but not when they are resistant to changing their ways.

The more styles a leader has mastered, the better.  In particular, being able to switch among the authoritative, affiliative, democratic, and coaching styles as conditions dictate creates the best organizational climate and optimizes business performance.